On view now through March 25th in the Bradley Family Gallery, Jaime Hayon: Technicolor brightens up wintertime in Milwaukee with a colorful splash of fun and fantasy. The energetic exhibition features work from two decades of the Spanish artist-designer’s career, including textiles, ceramics, glass, drawings, and playground equipment. These works represent a wide range of approaches to making, thinking, and viewing, while also remaining unified by a refreshing sense of playful whimsy.
Many people probably thing that international trade and technical innovations is something new: it’s important now, in the digital age; it was important in the 20th century, and perhaps influential as far back as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. But those that study the history of decorative arts know that international trade and technical innovations go back much further!
On the Museum’s Lower Level in the Hidden Dimensions gallery, there is a section on Myth, showcasing objects, such as card tables, that portray mythical figures. There are also several dishes mounted on the wall. A charger featuring the erotic seductress Venus is the subject of this blog post.
The dish in question dates to 1681 and is made of tin-glazed earthenware (also called Delftware). It features a reclining female nude with a child standing on her lap and four more children, or putti, playing behind her. The dish’s border depicts arrangements of fruit, cherries, flowers, masks in relief, and the inscription S/ WM/ 1681. Chargers with this scene are called fecundity dishes and were made in London between 1633 and 1697.
Those of you that have been through Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina might be wondering what the big silvery face jug is and how it fits into the exhibition.
It’s a contemporary artwork by artist Brian Gillis, titled Of Ghosts and Speculation. Gillis is based out of Eugene, Oregon, and describes himself as a “multidisciplinary artist whose practice examines relevant socio-cultural issues that may have fallen on deaf ears, been buried over time, or simply obscured by something else.” His work often deals with interpretations of history as well as how this information is archived.
I began discussing the early Edgefield face jugs with Brian last summer, and he was instantly fascinated by the fact that the face jug story has been lost over time. It didn’t seem like their origin and purpose had been passed down from generation to generation. We knew certain facts, such as that they were made in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, and that they were made by slaves, and, later, free African Americans in the second half of the 19th century.
For the most part, though, the face jugs had become an enigma.
Last month I wrote about the Chipstone Foundation’s new acquisition, an early Edgefield face jug with writing on the back. Since then, our curatorial team has uncovered the meaning behind the elusive inscription. Before revealing this discovery, I’ll catch you up on new research for Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina, on view until August 5 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
“Face jugs” is a term created by art historians, historians and archeologists to refer to turned stoneware vessels with applied faces. The eyes and the teeth are made of kaolin, a white river clay that is one of the primary components of porcelain. You will notice when you visit the exhibition that there are also face cups and face pitchers.
Many different cultures have created pottery with faces or human elements, but the Edgefield face jugs are unique.
For starters, we know very little about them.